Sweden Records Highest Death Tally in 150 Years in First Half of 2020

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) -
A man sits alone on a bench on the beach of Lake Malaren, during the coronavirus outbreak in Satra, southeast of Stockholm, April 25. (Henrik Montgomery/TT News Agency via AP)

Sweden, which has stood out among European countries for its low-key approach to fighting the coronavirus pandemic, recorded its highest tally of deaths in the first half of 2020 for 150 years, the Statistics Office said on Wednesday.

COVID-19 claimed about 4,500 lives in the period to the end of June – a number which has now risen to 5,800 – a much higher percentage of the population than in other Nordic nations, though lower than in some others including Britain and Spain.

In total, 51,405 Swedes died in the January to June period, a higher number than any year since 1869 when 55,431 died, partly as a result of a famine. The population of Sweden was around 4.1 million then, compared to 10.3 million now.

COVID-19 meant that deaths were some 10% higher than the average for the period over the last five years, the Statistics Office said. In April the number of deaths was almost 40% higher than average due to a surge in COVID-related fatalities.

Sweden has taken a different approach to most European countries in dealing with the pandemic, relying to a greater extent on voluntary measures focused on social distancing and opting against a strict lockdown.

Most schools have remained open and many businesses have been continued to operate to some extent, meaning the economy has fared better than many others.

However, the death toll has been higher than in its Nordic neighbors, which opted for tougher lockdown measures. Norway, with around half the population, has had only around 260 COVID deaths in total.

The economy of Finland also outperformed its larger neighbor in the second quarter, despite a tougher lockdown. Finland’s gross domestic product shrank around 5% against an 8.6% contraction in Sweden from the previous three-month period.